Sen. Scott Beason wants to give his colleagues a “cooling off period,” he says. And if they don’t cool on Jefferson County’s home rule bill, that cooling off period might last forever. Either way, Jefferson County could soon be insolvent.
A lot of things happen in Montgomery, but don’t let anyone tell you it’s democracy. The Alabama Legislature’s rules allow either four representatives or just one senator to contest a local bill, effectively freezing it in its tracks and eventually killing it. Not even the governor has that power, but Scott Beason does. And on Thursday, he used it.
Since the beginning of the session, Jefferson County commissioners have been lobbying the county’s legislative delegation to pass a limited home rule bill. The bill would give the county the ability to set its own taxes, including an occupational tax, so long as those taxes didn’t raise more than $50 million per year.
Successive court decisions last year ruled the county’s occupation tax illegal and left the county with more than $70 million ripped from its budget. The newly elected commission cut about $30 million from its budget and limped along by living out of its reserves. If the remaining gap weren’t closed, the county would be insolvent. Commissioners promised legislators they would be willing to take the heat for raising taxes, if the Legislature would give them the limited home rule needed to make those decision themselves.
Commissioners won bipartisan support in the Senate and House and Thursday morning they began the day believing the Senate would pass a version of their bill before the day was through.
But that optimism crashed into reality by late morning, when Sen. Beason contested the bill, stopping it single handedly.
As the Senate broke for lunch, Beason spoke briefly outside the chambers. He said he wasn’t convinced his colleagues had listened well enough to their constituents and wanted to give them a “cooling off period” to do so. When asked if that meant he would lift the contest next week to allow a vote, Beason quickly said no.
“I might never lift it,” Beason said.